Significant Political Sentiment: Kenya’s president emerging as a prominent African leader on the global stage

  • 3 Jul 2023
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri

President William Ruto’s ongoing charm offensive toward the West has sparked both praise and criticism as he tackles such topics as Africa’s financial empowerment, climate action, and peace and security. Through his speeches, President Ruto aims to re-establish Africa’s economic influence while navigating the complexities of global relations. However, the divergent reactions to his efforts reflect the significance and potential challenges of his ambitious agenda. 

The President has been a vocal advocate for tackling climate change, youth empowerment, education, and employment.

After his inauguration in September last year, Dr Ruto was faced with the task of deciding whether the country should back Ukraine in its war against the Russian invasion or take a path taken by many African countries who did not want to be pushed to choose between Moscow or the US-backed alliance supporting Kyiv.

He remained a constant supporter of the international rules-based order asserting that any violation of the UN Charter is a threat.

High-profile visits

Since the beginning of the year, high-profile visitors have visited the country, elevating President Ruto’s profile. The country has been a host to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, among other high-profile dignitaries who have toured Nairobi. In April, the country also hosted a governance forum by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

During the Mo Ibrahim Foundation event, President Ruto drew attention to the lack of African voices in global discussions on climate change stating that African countries must be represented at major climate events and platforms. He called for the situation to be rectified, emphasising that wealthy nations need to support African countries in their climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

“Ruto’s conviction on climate change is particularly significant given the work of the late Prof Wangari Maathai, who was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on environmental sustainability and empowering women. Maathai’s legacy looms large, and it is evident that Ruto sees the benefit of elevating the environmental conservation and sustainability agenda as a significant imperative for Africa,” wrote PR guru Gina Din-Kariuki, in an article published in New African Magazine.


In his inaugural address at the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, US, on September 21, 2022, Dr Ruto called on world leaders to rethink multilateralism as far as Africa is concerned.  

He stressed that the failure of multilateralism during a crisis often relegates the People of Africa outside the cycle of moral consideration and normalises humanitarian neglect. He described such negligence and other casual injustices as a failure of humanity. “Kenya stands ready to work with other nations to achieve the Pan-Africanisation of multilateralism and a more just and inclusive system of global governance,” the President said.

Additionally, he warned that rising nationalism is undermining collective action and the ability of the international community to guarantee fundamental rights. He argued that, as a consequence, countries of the global south are calling for global governance to be more democratic and inclusive, as they attempt to get their economy back on track.

He said building back better from the bottom upwards is essentially about including the marginalised working majority in the economic mainstream. “The bottom billion relentlessly wage their daily battle for survival in a crowded arena characterised by scarcity of opportunity and a generally precarious existence. Dr Ruto went on to praise the ‘hustlers’ who survive against overwhelming odds and urged for action to bring them into the mainstream.

In May, President Ruto received a standing ovation while delivering his speech at the Pan-African Parliament Summit on Climate Change Policy and Equity in Johannesburg, South Africa. The African leaders rose to acknowledge his point and nodded in unison amidst claps and screams as he argued his case before the summit. Dr Ruto was ranting over the mistreatment of African Heads of State when attending to invites by European nations.

The New Times, Rwanda’s largest private media organisation, reported that President Ruto had suggested that the African Union Commission should be empowered enough to represent the continent at such meetings instead of having dozens of Presidents at meetings where they are given a minute or so to speak.

“At times we are treated like ‘school children’ when attending international meetings to which we are invited. It is not right for a single leader from a developed country to summon over 50 African Heads of State for a meeting which will most likely end up being a photo session,” he said.

And at the 22nd Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) summit of Heads of State & Government in Lusaka, Zambia, on June 8, the President asked African Union (AU) member states to surrender certain powers to the continental bloc as part of reforms needed to make the body work.  

He urged the leaders to consider reforms at the AU as a ‘priority’ warning that without such sacrifices, the vision of the continental bloc, including Agenda 2063, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area and the Young, Clean Green Continent of the Future, will never be a reality.

“Member states must consider donating power to the AU on matters of trade, regional and global security as well as other areas that Africa can benefit from engaging together rather than individually. We should merge the position of chair of the AU Summit and that of the AU Commission into one so as to give it sufficient leverage to engage on behalf of Africa,” Dr Ruto said in his speech.

The President has also asked upon African countries to shift away from using the US Dollar for intracontinental trade. During his speech at the Djibouti Parliament a few weeks ago, Dr. Ruto highlighted the need to abandon reliance on the US Dollar for trade transactions between Djibouti and Kenya.

He urged his peers to mobilise central and commercial banks to join Pan-African Payments and Settlement System (PAPSS) which was launched in January 2022. The system for intra-African trade was developed by African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat. This initiative was backed by the African Union and African Central Banks.

Last week in France, while delivering a speech on climate change and financing to youth at the Champs de Mars in Paris, nearly every sentence he made was met with cheers and clapping, much to the delight of many.

A number of people feel that his commitment to sustainability, coupled with his vocal advocacy on the issues, is making him an influential African leader on the global stage.